Online | Reading Clocks, Alla Turca: Time and Society in the Late Ottoman Empire

The Polonsky Salon

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Thursday | 09.03.23 | 18:00

היו זמנים: על שעונים ואנשים בשלהי התקופה העוסמאנית

A Conversation |

With Prof. Avner Wishnitzer

Host: Dr. Dotan Halevy

What is the connection between clocks and feelings, time and power? What is the social and political meaning of waiting? How did modern technologies such as the train and the steamship influence the norms of punctuality and tardiness? And when and how did someone start deciding for us what time it is?

In his book, Reading Clocks, Alla Turca: Time and Society in the Late Ottoman Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2015), published in Hebrew by Magnes Press in 2022,

Avner Wishnitzer analyzes the time culture of the late Ottoman Empire and traces its change from the end of the eighteenth century to the establishment of the Turkish Republic. In the context of the rapid changes sweeping the region in that period, various Ottoman state bodies started imposing timetables and mechanical clocks on the work routine to achieve higher levels of control, regularity, and efficiency. A new web of time was extended gradually from state sites, such as military bases, government offices, and schools, to traffic arteries and city centers, subjecting growing numbers of people to clock time and the new norms associated with it. These changes, in turn, sometimes aroused difficulties, tensions, and even opposition concerning not only daily life but also questions of identity, ideology, and cultural orientation. Thus, the clocks of the early twentieth century displayed Ottoman time, in all its complexity.

Avner Wishnitzer is a faculty member of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Middle Eastern and African History. He studies the social and cultural history of the late Ottoman Empire. Reading Clocks was published originally in English by the University of Chicago in 2015 and in Turkish in 2019. His second book, As Night Falls: Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Cities after Dark, was published by Cambridge University in 2021, and a Turkish edition of the book appeared recently.

The Polonsky Salon is a digital public platform at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Polonsky Fellows and alumni will host inspiring and internationally renowned academics to discuss new ideas and cutting-edge research from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.


Prof. Avner Wishnitzer, Tel Aviv University

Dr. Dotan Halevy, Polonsky Academy Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

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